Archbishops suggest ‘open-ended engagement’ with breakaways

January 20, 2012

[Episcopal News Service] Archbishops Rowan Williams of Canterbury and John Sentamu of York have suggested that the Church of England and the Anglican Communion ought to be in “an open-ended engagement” with the Anglican Church in North America.

The organization is made up of individuals and groups that have left the Episcopal Church and the Anglican Church of Canada, as well as those that have never been members of those two provinces. It includes entities such as the Reformed Episcopal Church, formed in 1873, and the Anglican Mission in the Americas, founded by Rwandan Archbishop Emmanuel Kolini and Moses Tay, the now-retired primate of the province of South East Asia, in 2000.

Williams and Sentamu made their remarks in a report to the Feb. 6-9 sessions of the Church of England’s General Synod.

The report comes in response to a resolution the synod passed two years ago in which the Church of England recognized and affirmed ACNA’s desire “to remain in the Anglican family,” but said it was not yet ready to be in full communion with the breakaway entity.

The archbishops said that theirs was “a report on work in progress since the consequences of the establishment of ACNA some two and a half years ago are still emerging and on a number of issues any assessment at this stage must necessarily be tentative.” They offer some details on three issues: the range of possible relationships between other Christian churches and the Church of England, how a “particular local Church” can be accepted as part of the Anglican Communion, and under what circumstances the orders of another church might be recognized and accepted by the Church of England.

They noted that General Synod determines the nature of its relationship with other Christian churches and that the Anglican Consultative Council‘s constitution allows for new members by decision of the Standing Committee of the Communion and with the assent of two-third of the primates of the Churches already listed in the constitution. And, they said, people ordained in churches that accept the historical episcopate may be received into the Church of England and be authorized to minister.

The February 2010 resolution referred to “the distress caused by recent divisions within the Anglican churches of the United States of America and Canada,” and the archbishops said that that distress will continue “for some considerable time.” The divisions occurred over the decisions of the Episcopal Church and the Anglican Church of Canada related to full inclusion of LGBT (lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender) people in the life of the church, the ordination of women and the authority of scripture.

“Wounds are still fresh,” Sentamu and Williams write. “Those who follow developments in North America from some distance have a responsibility not to say or do anything which will inflame an already difficult situation and make it harder for those directly involved to manage the various challenges with which they are still grappling.”

Thus, they said, the outcome of the open-ended engagement that they suggest “is unlikely to be clear for some time yet, especially given the strong feelings on all sides of the debate in North America.”

The two men stressed that the Church of England “remains fully committed to the Anglican Communion and to being in communion both with the Anglican Church of Canada and the Episcopal Church.”